Like Benny from Crossroads, there’s an endearing simplicity about the food at Malmaison hotel’s brasserie.
You’ll find no outrageous combinations. No cheffy showing off. No pretension.
The menu ticks the boxes you’d expect in a modern British restaurant.
There are steaks and burgers, some Far Eastern influences, a touch of French, a smattering of Italian and English staples.
There are salads and fries and sauces to order as sides.
It’s a menu that makes you hungry. A menu with dishes that you want to eat.
And, crucially, underpinning the simplicity is a backbone of craft and understanding in the kitchen.
Several years had elapsed since I last sat down to dinner at Malmaison and, I have to confess, I hadn’t been impressed on previous occasions.
This time, though, as a guest of East Village PR, I left replete and happy after eating from the seasonal menu.
Ingredients were good. Their treatment respectful and skilled.
The space itself is a pleasant place to sit – lots of bare dark wood, comfortable seating, splashes of neon lighting. Service was efficient and charming.
I ignored formal starters and instead ordered a plate of the Provençal flatbread fougasse.
The bread was light and flavoursome and came with a striking dip of black garlic aioli, that had this lovely candied, acidic and mild notes that come from aged garlic.
Next, a fishcake was a generously deep thing that was packed with salmon and light of texture.
It came with spinach, a properly poached egg and herby velouté.
A seafood risotto recommended by the waiter was a absolute triumph.
The rice was perfectly cooked, so that it retained a little firmness.
It came mixed with white crab meat and there was fishy depth from a crab bisque and a luxurious creamy richness from mascarpone.
Well-judged pan-seared scallops lay on top, adding another layer of flavour.
That some risotto remained eaten reflected on the size of the serving – and my diminutive size – rather than the quality of the dish.
Afterwards, maintaining the Italian vibe, I ate affogato – a ridiculously strong shot of espresso poured over vanilla ice cream sprinkled with crushed amaretti biscuits.
This is a dessert that refreshes and revives when done well – and here it was.
That I lay awake much of the night through caffeine-overload was a small price to pay.
Need to know
Expect to eat pay around £40 a head with drinks if you eat a la carte.
You can eat more cheaply from the varied early evening menu.
There’s a separate vegan menu.
There’s a great buzzy bar attached to the restaurant.
Mailbox, 1 Wharfside Street, Birmingham B1 1RD. 0121 794 3004.